News: New fitness program helps Guardsmen lead healthier lives
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Theanne Tangen
FORT MEADE, S.D. – Maintaining physical fitness after basic training is expected of soldiers in the South Dakota Army National Guard, but life-changing events or civilian careers can sometimes make it difficult to sustain physical and mental wellness.
Instructors from the SDARNG’s 196th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), along with professionals from the Veterans Affairs Black Hills Health Care System, located at Fort Meade, are providing the tools and education necessary for soldiers to live a healthy lifestyle through a new two-week Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program.
The course is targeted toward soldiers who need to improve on their Army Physical Fitness Test score or meet the Army’s weight standards. The first course was held March 8-22 and included 49 students, and a second course is planned for August.
“These soldiers, who are having problems meeting the standard, are stuck,” said Maj. Wyatt Hansen, RTI administrative officer. “They are [prohibited] from attending career advancement schools, and if they don’t improve their situation come ETS (Expiration Term of Service) time, they can’t re-enlist.”
There is a lot of time and money invested into training soldiers, and the experiences the organization has given them through training or deployments is priceless, said Hansen.
“It is in our best interest to influence a positive lifestyle change to get these soldiers over this hump so they can continue their career,” said Hansen.
To help influence that change, the RTI partnered with the VA’s MOVE! Program; a national weight management program for veterans focusing on healthy lifestyle changes, rather than dieting.
This is the first time the VA has partnered with the National Guard, said Marni Whalen, VA registered dietician.
“I think it is great that they invited us to collaborate,” said Whalen. “Together, we can help these soldiers get healthier. We have a lot to offer by giving evidence-based information from our expert dieticians, psychologists and physician assistants.”
Whalen offers her dietician expertise by presenting classes on how not to diet, how to set realistic weight-loss goals and a hands-on class preparing healthy foods in a kitchen setting. Psychologist Michael Huxford offers tips on tobacco cessation, and Physician Assistant Dave Cohen talks about medical concerns related to weight issues.
“We have a lot of veterans who attend this course, so it is beneficial to have the VA’s registered dietician and physician assistant here to instruct and answer questions in the nutrition classes,” said Hansen.
In addition to the VA MOVE! Program, the course consists of a daily three-hour Army Physical Readiness Training session; tailored to instruct the soldiers on the proper movements and drills. The soldiers also learn resiliency skills to give them the mental skills to deal with life’s challenges, said Hansen.
Spc. John Vikiner lost 8 pounds within the first five days of the course.
“I recommend this course to anyone who is having motivation problems or disbelief in themselves,” said Vikiner. “The dedication and motivation the cadre demand from us, to meet the standard, instills confidence in us so we can stay in the Army and become better soldiers.”
Sgt. 1st Class Burle Christopherson, SDARNG master fitness trainer, explains how the cadre will ensure the students stay on track to meet their goals long after the course.
“We are going to have a 60-day workout schedule on our website,” said Christopherson. “If they follow our schedule, they are going to meet their goals from a physical perspective. We are also going to communicate with them on a regular basis on our Facebook page providing work-out tips and motivation.”
The cadre will also find out the results of the soldiers' 90-day and 180-day Army Physical Fitness Test conducted at their unit.
“We will get the results back and at that point will see if the course met our objective of changing the lives of these soldiers,” said Christopherson.
The course has inspired Vikiner to change his lifestyle.
“My goal is to lose 30 pounds, and I believe I can do that with what I have learned and the resources given,” said Vikiner. “Within three months, I want the instructors to be able to use a photo of me as an example of what this course is capable of doing for soldiers.”